Fast Track was a U.S. procedure established in the 1970s for negotiating trade agreements. It delegated to the executive branch Congress’ exclusive constitutional authority to “regulate Commerce with foreign nations.”1 In particular, Fast Track allowed the executive branch to select countries for, set the substance of, and then negotiate and sign trade agreements — all before Congress had a vote on the matter. Under Fast Track, normal congressional committee processes were circumvented and the executive branch was empowered to write lengthy implementing legislation for each pact on its own. These executive-authored bills altered wide swaths of U.S. law to conform domestic policy to each agreement’s requirements. Moreover, Fast Track was unique in that it empowered the executive branch to force a congressional vote on such implementing legislation and the related agreement within a set amount of time.
Fast Track renewal was slipped through Congress at midnight in 2002 by only two votes. On June 30, 2007, the current grant of Fast Track, now called “Trade Promotion Authority” by its supporters, expired. Fast Track is not needed to approve trade agreements, a fact proven by the dozens of trade agreements that have been passed without its use (such as the Jordan FTA, China PNTR, etc.). Fast Track unnecessarily creates a situation where negotiators cannot be held accountable by the public, and legislators are denied their constitutional authority to set the terms of trade agreements.
In recent years, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has used Fast Track to push dozens of controversial pacts through Congress including: the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and dozens of trade agreements with countries such as Chile, Singapore, Morocco, Australia, Bahrain and Oman. Trade negotiations have been accelerated to an alarming speed, denying legislators and the public the appropriate time to consider the serious ramifications of these agreements.